Feeling wanted

It is wonderful to share your bed with someone who wants to be close to you even when they sleep. Especially when they weigh only 42kg and the arm or leg they wrap around you in their sleep does not bother you at all :)

I have always been the opposite – unless I am drunk :) I always turn my back to my partner when I sleep. The main reason for this is that I need an awful lot of air to breath. Another reason is that I do not want to disturb her sleep…

So, I am a happy and lucky fella these days :)

Hanoi by bus

Yesterday I decided to go to the centre of Hanoi by bus. The first time to use public transport.

According to Google maps there was a bus stop not so far away from my apartment. There are no bus maps, so preparation is a bit cumbersome. I did find out that one of the three buses passing our neighbourhood would go close to the Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre. So, we gave it a try.

Our bus came after maybe 30 minutes. The ticket information I had from the internet was not so up to date. The price had gone up to 7,000Dong from 3,000 some indefinite time ago.

One thing that surprised me (also later when we took some other bus) was that immediately after entering the bus some young lad or girl would get up and offer me their seat!  I have never come across that in Europe! It made me feel a bit weird, however, and I asked myself: “do you really look so old and fragile?”.

So, I learned quickly that one should avail of such offers of respect. I refused the seat – and had to suffer immediately. Standing in a bus in Hanoi means you should hold on to all available handles etc. with both hands – all the time. It appears that the most important part of these buses are the breaks. And they may be used at all moments and will send you flying about if you are not straddled in properly! The next time someone offered e a seat I accepted it gracefully :)

We had a nice walk round the lake in the middle of the old quarter and tourist zone.

My got the bus wrong for our return trip – and we ended up near her apartment instead. That was an unexpected but very welcome diversion – as it was close to my favourite duck restaurant and we had some unplanned dinner :)

 

 

 

I was too slow…

Yesterday I was very happy when My came back from her early morning shopping at 6 am with a bag of fresh prawn. When you refer to “fresh” prawn here it means that they are still alive and wriggling.

My has an allergy against crayfish, so they were all for me…and my plan was to have them for lunch.

My way – which is not exactly Vietnamese. Rather in the old fashioned Japanese way: to eat them RAW.

To take them by their tail and hit their heads against the kitchen counter, to kill them before you rip off their head and shell and devour them after dipping them in a light and spicy sauce…nothing that My would approve of as she is against me eating any raw seafood or meat :(

And, alas, I was too slow when noon came. Before I even noticed she had the prawns steamed over beer…

OK, they were quite tasty – but when do I ever have the joy to feast on live prawn?!

The bonus was that she did not use all the beer (a jar of draft beer she had quickly bought at the bia hoi around the corner) and I could finish the rest…

I must make her buy more prawns this week – and keep them away from the lady :)

Street sales…

Hanoi city is full with street vendors. They ride their bicycles or motorbikes at low speed through the residential streets. Most are equipped with a tape recorder and speakers that repeat permanently what is on offer. This goes on till midnight even. Things on sale range from fresh coffee to sticky rice with add-ons.

I am never quick enough to turn on my camera and go to the balcony to make a picture of them for you – but maybe one day :)

Apart fro the usual stuff this morning I heard to guys passing on bicycles. One of them was offering rat traps. The other one hat a few cages fixed to his bike and was announcing that he was looking to buy cats and dogs…You may guess for what purpose!

There are also always a lot of women in my street who settle on the narrow side-walks to sell fruit – like mandarins and oranges.

You could not imagine how many people are selling “something” here. About every family that lives on the ground floor of a building uses the entrance area as a shop :)

That makes everything very personal and charming.

Snails on the table…

This morning we bought some snails (“ốc”) on the market. The smaller, firmer kind that are easy to clean. I don’ know their specific name. They are frequently used for a snail soup with noodles that is very popular for breakfast.

We had them for lunch (just steamed a bit with herbs in the pot) and a dipping sauce.

The dipping sauce is the secrete – and extremely hot. It is made of fish sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic, chillies, sugar, herbs…

There are two choices to eat the snails.

In any case you have to get them out of their little houses. You use a toothpick or a needle or something pointed like that to remove the little lid they use to protect themselves from the heat of the pot and then get them out of their little house.

This is quite a task and therefore snails are the perfect diet food. They keep you occupied for a long time without you stuffing yourself.

One way to eat them is “one by one” and dip them individually. This way they will keep warm the longest.

If you, however, prefer to have a “mouthful” every time, you extract a couple of them from their houses, put them on a spoon that you then dip into the sauce and eat a bunch of them all at once…

I am lucky! Because I have a great helper. So, while I am fiddling around with one or two individual snails My prepares a good dozen at lightning speed…and I end up again stuffing my face…:)

Back to the diet…

Being back home in Hanoi also means to counterbalance the food and drink excesses in Thailand :)

I started this morning with a diet breakfast of boiled duck egg – and Vietnamese coffee.

We like the duck eggs to be fertilised and bred for about 18 days. They are then boiled and eaten with fresh ginger and “rau ram” – a local herb called “Vietnamese mint”. Heavenly!

Don’t be put off by the “looks” of this. A standard chicken egg is also a bird embryo…The taste is real good!

 

Part of nature…

During the last two days I have felt more like being part of nature than in a long time.

The constantly roaring ocean about an arms length away, the torrential rains sounding like a waterfall on the roof of our bungalow, gusts of wind that let the dim lamp swing in the room.

Protected only (but adequately) by paper-thin bamboo walls! And feeling strangely free and relaxed. Maybe also due to the temperatures that let you feel comfortable in your birthday suit.

In Bansko I am also surrounded by nature. But I am more at awe there. I enjoy it, I admire it – but I am not as much a part of it as here…more like an on-looker…

 

Enlightened and calm…

This morning I am in a rather contemplative mood. Maybe because the soaring rain leaves my thoughts free to roam…

The not only physical distance to Europe that I enjoy every year for a few months is a blessing. It helps you to see yourself and the Western society around you from a different, not so “urgent” perspective. Which, in contrast, in makes you quite stoic – or maybe that comes to the thinking man automatically with age and experience? The deep knowledge that there has been further evolution of mankind and that human violence will always prevail – only on a different scale, now that technical capabilities for it have increased x-fold.

Even (and especially) in my intellectual friends I notice a false sense that our “enlightened” Western societies have overcome this human tendency to violence. Sadly, the situation is as John Gray put it so appropriate in his recent publication “The Soul of the Marionette – a Short Inquiry into Human Freedom”

“By intervening in societies of which they know nothing, western elites are advancing a future they believe is prefigured in themselves—a new world based on freedom, democracy and human rights. The results are clear—failed states, zones of anarchy and new and worse tyrannies; but in order that they may see themselves as world-changing figures, our leaders have chosen not to see what they have done.”

This requires a break now – so I can have my coffee and omelette – and you to accept the truth of that statement…

 

BBQ Time

In July 1979 I packed my bags, left my forester’s house in the Taunus hills and embarked for New York to seek my fortune :) That was after the woman I was in love with and who I wanted to be the mother of my children made it clear that she a) would not live or have children in that remote forest home and b) that she would not marry me in the first place…

The years before I had been self employed, in fact, I was running three companies in the end. A publishing company with a weekly stock market advisory service, an asset management company and a brokerage firm with a seat on the European Options Exchange in Amsterdam…and I was kind of burnt out at that young age after working for 18 hours a day and more for years…I wanted to live and have a family and children.

So, I got in touch with US brokerage companies. Back then I was not completely unknown in Germany and all of them wanted to hire me. In the end I went for the company with the lowest offer, Merrill Lynch :) Because they had the best reputation.

To make a long story short. I sold two of the companies and transferred the publishing company to the name of my best friends wife. Then I packed and went to New York.

I shared an apartment with two colleagues at 32nd Street and 6th Avenue. Just around Madison Square Garden. A rough area at the time – but then New York was not for the fearsome on those days of the rise of black power.

I did not know anyone in New York, of course. Fortunately, however, a very good friend of mine from Germany came to stay with his emigrated childhood friends on Long Island. And they became also my friends quickly and I spent all most of my first months free time out there.

Of course, they had become real Americans – and did no ore cooking whatsoever. It was always either “bing-bing” (microwave) or “ding-dong”(delivery) :) But on the weekends it was BBQ time.

As their grilling results consisted mainly of charcoaled chicken I started to take over and organise things. For this purpose I bought my first (and last) BBQ cookbook ever:

Back then this was the US bible for BBQing :) The average American family still looked a bit different then:

I don’t want to make myself older than I really am, so I confess I bought the book second hand. It is from 1965 :)

It was not a bad teacher to start with because it covered all the basics. Nowadays we are much more international, of course- or are we ? ;)

For me at the beginning in NY everything was BIG – the food portions as well. A good BBQ steak had to have three pounds or more :)

Here are a few things that were really good and that I would still cook the same way now, after 35 years.

Like these ribs, for example:

 

When I see these lamb racks I remember how cheap lamb was back then in comparison to today! Who is grilling such stuff nowadays? In Bulgaria?

Even in the sixties burgers were quite popular – and I also tried my luck with them. But they were not my favourite – and I also don’t need them nowadays…

 

One of my real favourites however was the “Campfire Pot Roast”! An inexpensive cut with an awful lot of flavour! I recommend this from my heart to every BBQ enthusiast :)

The meat is from the front shoulder, the “chuck” part. Sometimes I buy a big piece of shoulder at my favourite butcher’s in Yakoruda. Then I “dissect” it to my liking and freeze the parts. You can do the above recipe also with a big “teleshki kotlet” that many butchers offer.

Another inspiring feature for me back then was the seasoning-table in the book. Of course, we are light-years from that nowadays but not everyone is as advanced and versatile as my friend Jun Yoshida. For a “normal” BBQ fan this guide gives you the basics on which to build :)

I only wanted to share some of the stuff of the cook book with you but, as usual, I wandered off and told you half the story of my life ;) I hope you still enjoy the pictures and also find some inspiration…

Oh, and six years later, after coming back to Germany and moving on to London, the woman married me and became the mother of my child after all :)

Last night in Peking – forever?

My last entry for Peking has to be about food, of course.

I just come back from dinner. Despite my cold I ventured out to burn a few of the Renminbis I have left (still from two months ago).

This was the upmarket Sichuan restaurant that I had chosen in the area:

I am sorry, but I cannot tell you its name.

They did not have any English menu, of course, and no one spoke English – but they had something very modern: the menu was on a tablet computer with pictures of every item and you could order just by hitting the add button when you saw something you like.

I ordered some tofu. The Sichuan way. I had had that recently in Ha Noi and I liked it. When it arrived it turned out to be a challenge. Because the tofu was cooked in a chilli sauce – and a hot one in addition.

I also ordered a “dzholan”, pork knuckle. What I could not ee from the photo, however, was that this baby also had been cooked in chilli oil with the addition of some spices that I have never encountered before – which made this part an even bigger challenge than the tofu, which came first and by now tasted nearly sweet in comparison!

By the time I had finished my meal my nose was running not only because of the cold!

Now I will take a hot bath and then watch some Chinese National Television. Hopefully to see Xi Jinping. I like this guy. He is cool, confident and relaxed. Much cooler than Obama when I see the two of them together and he definitely talks on eye level with him. Give another 5 years and he will be the most powerful man on earth…